Everybody Was Wrong About Barcelona: Tips for Enjoying Your First Visit

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For years, I felt ambivalent about visiting Barcelona.

Fellow travel bloggers didn't seem that into it. Friends told me they weren't all that impressed. And then there was also the constant “you'll get robbed” warning that came up ANY time I heard or read anything about the city.

Barcelona seemed daunting and not that appealing; I was in no rush to visit for years.

Plaza in Barcelona, Spain
I wasn't really interested in Barcelona… until I was.

But then suddenly I found myself with nearly two weeks of free time to spend in Spain.

I honestly contemplated skipping Barcelona altogether and splitting my time between Seville, Granada, and Cordoba in the south instead. But the draw of Gaudi architecture and cheaper flights between Bucharest (where I'd be flying from) and Barcelona than anywhere else swayed me. I decided to spend a couple days in Barcelona after all.


Because, as it turns out, everybody was wrong about Barcelona.

Casa Batllo in Barcelona, Spain
Casa Batllo

Yes, Barcelona is a large city. Yes, there are some very touristy parts. And yes, like in any large city, tourists are often targets for pickpockets and scam artists. But, honestly? I didn't once feel unsafe in Barcelona – and the touristy parts didn't really turn me off at all.

In fact, I LOVED Barcelona.

Inside Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Inside Sagrada Familia

Though, as I found out as soon as I started professing my love for Barcelona on social media, apparently I'm not alone. Clearly I was just talking/listening to the wrong “everybody”s before.

After spending a total of 4 days in Barcelona, I brainstormed some theories about what contributed to me liking Barcelona so much.

And here are some tips I came up with to ensure that you, too, love your first visit to Barcelona.

Tips for visiting Barcelona, Spain (and actually loving it)

1. Go at the right time of year

Barcelona Cathedral
Barcelona Cathedral in the popular Barri Gotic

I went to Barcelona in late April/early May – before the tourists crowds and summer heat really set in. The weather was warm but not too hot like it can be mid-summer. And there WERE some lines at the major tourist attractions, but once inside things didn't feel too crowded.

I think the time of year definitely can make a difference when it comes to visiting Barcelona and enjoying it. Generally the shoulder seasons in Barcelona are April-early June and September-October, when you'll find comfortable temperatures and fewer tourists.

2. Mix touristy with less-touristy adventures

Sagrada Familia i Barcelona
Skip Sagrada Familia? I think not!

I couldn't go to Barcelona and NOT see the Sagrada Familia or Barri Gotic or Park Guell, and wouldn't recommend that you skip them, either. The “top sites” in Barcelona really are recommended for a reason – they're all pretty awesome (especially the Gaudi architecture).

But if you JUST focus on Gaudi houses and La Rambla, I guarantee that you'll get overloaded on tourist crowds.

Barcelona isn't a place where you're ever going to get completely away from people, but there definitely are places you can go that are less touristy.

Door in Barcelona's El Born neighborhood
Head to El Born for a more local feel

For example:

  • Instead of eating along touristy (and expensive) Passeig de Gracia, head one parallel street over to Rambla de Catalunya. It's actually the upper part of La Rambla and has the same wide pedestrian section filled with tapas places in the middle, but it's way less crowded and the prices are much more reasonable.
  • After you've had your fill of jam-packed Barri Gotic, head to the nearby El Born neighborhood. It has the same narrow streets and Barcelona character, but you'll find few tourists wandering around.
  • Take a walk to the beach via the Barceloneta neighborhood. This beachy part of town feels completely different than the center of the city!
Barceloneta Beach
Barceloneta Beach

3. Get a transport card

On my first day in Barcelona, I bought an Hola BCN! card from a metro station, which covers unlimited rides on all public transport in Barcelona (metro, bus, tram, regional train – even the metro from the airport!). You can buy these cards for either 2, 3, 4, or 5 consecutive days and then never have to worry about paying for public transport.

If you plan to travel a lot around Barcelona, this will likely save you money! Plus, it means never having to pull out your wallet in a metro station.

Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona is big! Using public transit is smart.

4. Stay in a good location

I'm definitely of the belief that good accommodation in a good neighborhood can make or break an experience in a new city. I was lucky enough to have some great accommodations in a nice Barcelona neighborhood. I stayed in an apartment rental in the Eixample neighborhood – close enough to everything, but away from all the crowds.

The apartment had a great terrace with a view out over Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes and was within a 5-minute walk from a metro stop and quite a few restaurants/cafes.

Other good neighborhoods in Barcelona include El Born, Gràcia, and El Raval.

5. Book things in advance

Park Guell view in Barcelona
Park Guell definitely requires pre-booked tickets!

Even though I visited before the start of high season in Barcelona, I still discovered that most of the popular sites (like Sagrada Familia and basically all the other Gaudi sites) were extremely busy at all times of day.

Just like everywhere else these days, you need to pre-book tickets for all the top sites online. Sometimes well, well in advance.

6. Build in time to wander

Lastly, allow yourself some time to just wander in Barcelona.

I made very few plans before arriving, meaning I could be slightly more spontaneous. (It also meant I could keep circling back to my favorite Gaudi buildings to take way too many photos, but that's beside the point.)

Barcelona is a big city, and it's MUCH more than just Barri Gotic and Passeig de Gracia. I think it's much more enjoyable when you do a little further wandering.

Street scene in Barcelona

Like I said earlier, I ended up LOVING Barcelona. It's a city I will definitely go back to again, and hopefully enjoy just as much a second time around.

Everybody that told me it was “meh” and dangerous was wrong. I found it to be a beautiful city – and I didn't feel like it was any more dangerous than any other large city I've been to in Europe.

But, of course, you probably shouldn't listen to me, either. Instead, go to Barcelona and see for yourself!

What's YOUR take on Barcelona? Love it? Hate it? Never been?


Barcelona Travel Tips

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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83 Comments on “Everybody Was Wrong About Barcelona: Tips for Enjoying Your First Visit

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  1. I just stumbled upon this article and agree with what you say. I just got back after 4 days of visiting Barcelona – basically 7 hours ago – and loved the city. It’s so lively and offers so much to do and see. The architecture is great and the little hidden cafés and tapas bars are so lovely. I would definitely go back in an instant.

      Yup, I’m kinda already dreaming about my next trip to Spain! I really have no clue now why I put off going there for so long… it’s awesome!

    I LOVED Barcelona too. In fact, I loved it so much I felt compelled to share it with my mother and we explored the city together. We spent most days just strolling and had the time of our lives. La Rambla is the worst part of the city – worst food, expensive, and dangerous because of the concentration of tourists and therefore tourist crime. We avoided it and discovered architectural, cultural, and culinary gems around every corner. I say it’s a must see.

      And so many people only focus on La Rambla and the area around there – I’m convinced that’s the reason some people don’t like Barcelona. That was my least favorite part of the city, too!

    In my experience it is always best to visit a place and decide for yourself if you like it or not, even if everyone says that it is terrible. I’m glad you chose to go and found a city that you liked so much.

      Yup, that’s been my experience, too, Dean! We all have such different tastes and perspectives that it’s impossible to take someone else’s experience and assume yours will be the same!

    I really love Barcelona. Going in May was the 5th time over probably 20 years LOL! I actually saw you at TBEX in Costa Brava but there were so many girls surrounding you, I thought I’d leave it for another day, and then it was over! You’re a star. 🙂

    I had some trouble with the airlines because my flight was delayed for over 10 hours and I only live in Germany, but I didn’t let it spoil my Spanish experience LOL!

    Barcelona is a great city full of Spanish charm, lovely boulevards and the sea. I even liked it better than Madrid and can’t wait to go back again.

      Aww well I’m sorry we missed each other at TBEX! Glad to hear you love Barcelona too, though. It’s such a cool city!

    That looks amazing! I’m surprised you’d heard so many negative things about Barcelona. I thought it was a must visit destination! Well, it is definitely a must-see after reading your post! Thanks for sharing!

      Well it will definitely be a city I dub as a “must-visit” from now on!

    You changed my mind. I was also heard that Barcelona is a a boring place. So i didn’t intend to visit there. But now after reading your article I have decided to go there as soon as possible. keep posting like this.

      Great to hear! I of course can promise you’ll love it like I did, but you’ll never go if you don’t visit for yourself!

    Also SO surprised to hear of people not liking Barcelona! It is high on our short list of ‘cities we’ve visited that we could see ourselves moving to.’ I often think that whether or not people like a place has more to do with them, and where they are when they visit than the place. There are towns I didn’t much care for, but I am sure that if I had been in a better mood, or had done different things while I was there I would have felt very differently!

      Yes, so true! Everything from attitude to weather can affect how you experience a place. And, sometimes, one bad experience can completely turn a person off a city.

    So great to hear you went and experienced the place for yourself! I love Barcelona too – although it’s been a long time since I went.
    Your post has reminded me how beautiful it is: Gaudi, Street art.

    Thanks for sharing!

      It definitely is a beautiful city! I got kind of obsessed with seeing all the Gaudi stuff!

    I did enjoy Barcelona both times I visited and would definitely go back, but I was one of the unfortunate victims of the robbers. It’s hard to be vigilant all of the time, so I would probably just try to leave anything important at home.

      That’s always a good rule, too. I pretty much only went out with as much cash as I thought I would need for the day. Made me feel a lot better, knowing there wasn’t much in my wallet to steal!

    I think it’s so interesting that you mentioned that you had mostly heard bad things about Barcelona! I think I have only ever heard people absolutely gushing about this city, so it’s interesting to know that there’s a whole different school of thought out there! That being said, I don’t think I have seen a lot of travel bloggers write about Barcelona, so that probably distorts my impression. 🙂
    I have never been to Spain before, but I am very curious to visit this country one day and also stop by Barcelona. And your posts features so many great tips that I’m sure will come in handy by the time I finally visit! 🙂 I’m glad that Barcelona made such a good impression on you – definitely proves that sometimes we just shouldn’t listen to what everyone else is saying! 🙂

      I guess I just know too many people who have been pickpocketed in Barcelona! Haha. That almost always leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Glad that you’ve mostly heard good things, though – it’s an amazing city and I’ll definitely be going back! (I also loved Seville – stayed tuned because I’ll be writing about that soon too!)

    I just got back from Barcelona and it was amazing. I didn’t fall in love with it completely, but I’ve traveled enough to know that it’s probably because we stayed in exactly the wrong location. We rented an apartment and the map of the exact location was not quite accurate on the booking site, which we did not realize until after we arrived. We were offered beer and drugs on the street the minute we stepped out of the taxi from the airport at 9:30 pm. HOWEVER, we only encountered this sort of thing at night going back and forth from our apartment and outside one nightclub we decided to visit. These are both very contained areas we could have avoided had we not been staying in the middle of it! The rest of the city was wonderful. The big sights are so worth it. We spent so much time at the Sagrada Famiglia and only left because we desperately needed to eat something. On our last night we discovered the El Born neighborhood and my friend and I are already planning our return trip to stay in El Born, it’s just gorgeous. We felt perfectly safe everywhere but right outside our front door and even there we were only worried about being pickpocketed. But I’m sure plenty of travelers would have been so put off by our few blocks of an otherwise great neighborhood that they’d have come home despising Barcelona. I’m so happy you liked Barcelona too!

      Glad to hear you didn’t let one part of one neighborhood completely sour your experience!

    Stunning photography! It has been a few years since I spent sometime in Barcelona. My mom and I had a wonderful time and I would loooove to go back!!!

      Sounds like maybe a return trip is in order! 🙂

    I’ve lived in Barcelona for the past 10 months and I still haven’t been robbed or heard of a friend who has been robbed. I’m about to move to my new studio flat in El Born, and you’re right, it’s a great neighbourhood. It’s very lively at night and full of cute shops and good eateries to keep you entertained. I think Barcelona has so much to offer, but it’s a pity that many tourists don’t venture outside of Las Ramblas and Passeig the Gracia.

      Oooo I’ll bet living in El Born would be lovely! And glad to hear that the experience living there is similar to what I saw!

    This is such a great complete guide, thank you! I can never get enough of Barcelona

      Thanks! I had fun writing it, highlighting all my favorite bits of the city. Plenty more Barcelona content to come, too!

    Most people I have spoken to love Barcelona so I think you were talking to the wrong everybodies! I only spent 3 nights there and we were in campervans so stayed out of town, it was also 9 years ago since I was there, and I didn’t completely fall in love with it but I enjoyed my time there. It is definitely somewhere I would go back to now that Iam older. My favourite city in Spain is Granada but Barcelona is my second favourite 🙂

      Haha, yes, clearly I am friends with the wrong everybodies!

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